Whit at bat. He is #3. In case you are curious, Babe Ruth played #3 for the Yankees.
This is Whit’s fourth year playing Little League in our town. For the last three years he played in the “minor leagues,” for the Giants. They were not a winning team. For three straight years, they were bottom of the league. 6 of 8 minor league teams go to the playoffs, and Whit never went. This year he was drafted into the “major leagues,” onto the Yankees. It’s not a small thing for this Red Sox family to cheer enthusiastically for the Yankees, but we have, all season.
It has not been, shall we say, a winning season. Whit’s decided he’s a bad luck charm for baseball. Heading into the final game they were 2-13. Some of the losses have been close and others have been heroic (12-0). The team is great and the coaches are wonderful and Whit’s improving and mostly it’s been a great experience, despite a fairly unrelenting series of losses. The boys enjoy each other’s company and I’m consistently struck by how they talk to each other, on the field and off. The coaches are mostly long-time coaches, whose own kids have moved onto older teams but who stuck with it out of passion and interest in the game. The season is short and the commitment is manageable. The other parents are great, from a mix of schools and across our neighborhood. I love it, and so, mostly, does Whit.
We all came to the last game of the season expecting to go out with a whimper. Hoping to keep the game in the “close” rather than “painful” category. But this team of scrappy, mostly rookie players turned it around. They shocked everyone – their parents and their opponents – by winning. This meant that the other team was knocked out of contention for the top spot.
Our town’s major league has five teams. One goes to the “mayor’s cup” (and the team we beat in the final game no longer had that option) and the other four go to the playoffs. So Friday’s playoff game was Whit’s first in four years of Little League. The Yankees came back to win it again.
Tuesday is the championship game. I’m aware that this model of play – where the team with the worst record by a long shot can be in the finals – is flawed. Still, it’s fun, and I’m struck by the lessons that fill team sports. And I don’t mean the lessons taught by overzealous parents and expensive club sports (I have much ambivalence about the way youth sports have developed in our country or at least in my region). Even in local, town little league, the learnings abound.
First and foremost, never, ever, ever give up. You may turn things around in the last game of a disastrous 16 game season, but that’s worth a lot.
Respect your teammates. Everyone on this team contributes and it’s a marvel to see. There are no freeloaders. Do your best.
Don’t goad others, for good or for bad. Over the last few years, there have been boys at Whit’s school who have teased him for his poorly-performing teams. I always encouraged him to try to ignore this line of talk, even though I know it stung. Similarly, we have always taught both kids not to draw attention to self when playing well (for example, dramatically celebrating goals is not ok in our house). You can feel good and celebrate with your team. But I know that Whit’s not teasing the kids whose teams he knocked out.
I did not play team sports as a kid, and so I’m learning all these things alongside Grace and Whit. Hockey and cross-country have provided powerful lessons, and this season of baseball has too. I’m grateful.
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